MARS4 - The Unofficial F*cking Story

Chapter 13

Typical Trouble in Paradise

Jerry did not remember packing half of the things he was pulling out of the duffels. In fact, Jerry was sure that all he had stuffed into a bag was a few sweaters, some spare socks and a cleaning kit for his Father’s sword. The Fox wondered vaguely how far in shock he was about hearing that his sister would be here.

The first thing he pulled from the bag was a simple, jewelry box sized container. There was no key or combination, but he hesitantly opened it.

There was a ring inside, on a chain. It was a marriage of gold and silver, intertwined with one and other to form a solid piece of jewelry. A wedding band, with Voxholm written on the inside of it. Jerry picked it up by the chain to inspect it. A rare smile formed on his lips, and he kissed the ring. Beneath it was a picture of a female Mobian in an officer’s uniform, markings on her shoulder indicated to any with the knowledge she was a Healer.

It was a color photo. Jerry reached down and at first, touched it. Then he turned placed the ring back on the photograph and closed the box. He pushed it away, closed his eyes, and steadied himself.

Next Jerry found a SAS-G, the Sally Acorn Special bundled in a blanket. It was a firearm with an underslung grenade launcher designed by Wade to be used by the MAR Specialists. There was enough ammunition for a load out on a vest, and extra in case he needed to restock.

The green vest which was immediately pulled after the rifle had a layer of metal that reflected the laser weapons favored by the enemies of a Free Mobius, as well as a few who just liked blasting things with lasers. There was enough of the armor to have a medium suit, but he started throwing the arm and leg guards away, preferring the lack of restriction it would give to him by simply wearing the ‘breastplate’.

There was also a Falchion, Wade’s old favorite weapon with a note saying that Jerry would have more use of it than they would for now.

The weapon was almost indestructible, the only damage was a slightly melted ball at the end of the handle, and that was always been there since Jerry had met the Duck. Not a single scratch, dent or nick in the heavy, two-handed weapon. Jerry wanted to know where Wade had picked this sword up since he had been constantly breaking his own, but they never got around to talking about it.

An earpiece, nothing bulky as the half visor he had worn when he started as MARS4 was also in the package, and he fitted it into his ear as soon as he found it.

Jerry also unwrapped a second sword, a rapier, ornate at the hilt with roses and thorns, Jerry recognized it as Morten Jakuul’s sword, the weapon they had recovered with his Father’s body. The Fox hefted the weapon, looking over the King’s Mark on the scabbard. Jerry had this mounted on the wall in his barrack at Fort Acorn, hoping that someone from the Jakuul Family would turn up and attempt to claim it.

That way Jerry could wrap the sword in a true Jakuul pelt.

Jerry placed it next to the Falchion and inspected the rest of the gear. There were spheres, with odd lights. Jerry handled one, offering a soft, slow smile to no one in the room.

“So Control, what have you got me doing here?” Jerry asked unceremoniously.

I take it you found the earpiece alright?” Control asked. Even hearing her through one ear, Jerry found that she still sounded like she was right behind him. He thought back to those alluring eyes of hers, the only thing he could remember seeing of her.

“And other things floating about suggesting that I’m not here to simply recuperate,” Jerry noted, pulling out several other communications devices similar to what he was wearing now. Just encase he fried out the one he had he guessed.

That was the original intention, but since I have all the other MARS assets currently occupied throughout Mobius, I have found something for you that will not be so strenuous,”

Other assets? Had MARS grown the month he had been under?

“You’ve given me enough of these things to start my own little war Control,” Jerry pointed out, tapping magazines together before placing them to the side. “Objective?”

There are four nodes in your bag, they are detection modules. Interference up there is keeping me from scanning the area for energy signatures after I detected a brief Emergency Beacon, I suspect it may be the same Legion stealth technology we had encountered before. I want you to place the nodes evenly in the area, one in the village nearby, in the forest near your house, in the field a few miles away, and another near the fortification south of you,”

“An emergency beacon?” Jerry questioned, “Who did we lose?”

We didn’t lose anyone, MARS4,” Control replied, “It was a Royal Secret Service Emergency Beacon,

“Great,” Jerry muttered as he rolled his eyes, “An RSS lost in paradise, I thought we were avoiding them,”

We are avoiding everyone. If you encounter an Agent, you are to avoid telling them anything about your involvement in the MARS program."

"However, because of the stationary location, there is a good chance that it’s an Intelligence Drop, you are to secure the intelligence once I pinpoint the location, no telling what the Secret Service had Found.

That made Jerry snort.

“The Fucking Republic, why can’t they pick this up?” the Fox demanded, loading the SAS-G and putting a fresh round in the chamber. He peered down the iron sights before putting it back on the bed.

The beacon comes on from time to time. It is too far outside of the Republic’s detection capabilities, especially with the Iron Dominion at their Shields." As Control said that, Jerry smiled broadly at the misery of those den of Traitors. ”And it will not register on G.U.N. sensors, so we’re it.”

“Right, I’ll start now,”

You can do it tomorrow morning MARS4, that is an order,” Control countermanded, obviously not wanting Jerry to strain himself. “The beacon isn’t moving. You are well within the envelope of anything like we had encountered before, so it may just be atmospheric interference, I calculate no emergency. Place the nodes, keep the coms around at all times and I’ll get back with you; Control out.

After she disconnected, the Fox placed the earpiece in his pocket and inspected the ‘nodes’.

They were simple. Round, and utterly bland.

Jerry stuffed two in a pack he had pulled from the duffel and resolve to place them on his way to the village, he could get the other two later.

There were medical supplies and yet another note. This one stated to see the Village Doctor and have his bandages looked at or replaced.

The last thing Jerry pulled out put him in a slightly better mood.

The Mobian Power Fist. When triggered, he could throw a punch that could send opponents flying, or dent metal, or shatter stone, things he could do with painkillers and persistence. The weapon could be used defensively as it could be used offensively, resembling a piece of armor that would strap onto the top of the arm and covered up to the top half of his knuckles.

This was not the one Jerry had used before in his second official mission in the unofficial organization. The last one he had used had been a prototype, looking more like the upper half of a SWATBot arm.

This one was a polished gunmetal gray and appeared more like armor than it was a weapon, with a lip on the shoulder to offer Jerry some sort of neck protection. The straps were adjustable, allowing Jerry to use it on either arm, considering he could use either or at the drop of a hat.

There was even ornate lettering along the bicep, he read aloud with a hint of pride.

“No Retreat.”

Jerry came across the instructions tucked within the glove. The previous configuration had a battery pack that held five charges. This one had two charges, and it recharged one charge every sixty seconds by solar power.

The Fox fitted it on before putting it off to the side on top of the Falchion, wanting to finish unpacking so he could get to sleep. After arranging his gear and cleaning up his mess, he walked around the house for a while, leaving the cane behind on the headboard.

This place was peaceful, secluded, and out of the middle of nowhere as far as he knew of. But if Control was having problems looking over this place, Jerry made sure every window and door he found were locked.

Including the one leading into the room, he had claimed for his own.

The Fortress was active tonight.

There had been a ship of some kind flew into the valley, matching the description of a transport used by a Guardians of some other nonsense that Kalm Jakuul did not care to think on. His scouts followed the transport to the Voxholm ‘manor’ he enjoyed calling, depositing a Fox in the Uniform Blues of the Kingdom of Acorn in a nearby field.

Or the Republic of Acorn it liked to call itself, which spat on everything Kalm’s Father sacrificed for it in the Great War.

Was it possible that Chase had contacted the Republic without his knowledge? The Jackal was unsure. First, there was that Republic Spy, then the Dark Legionnaire they managed to capture, and now the Republic again.

Who else knew of this valley and how long can Kalm keep it secure and secret until the Army was ready to reclaim the Throne of Acorn?

He rang a bell, his eyes ever focused on that horizon that barely sheltered the forest that had held a thorn to his side.

“Yes my lord?”

Kalm did not turn toward the voice, but he did gesture them to rise. “Prepare a raid, three of our inexperienced pilots and three of our best infiltrators,”

“Yes Lord, our goal?”

Kalm clasped his chin with one hand.

“You are going to secure my daughter and bring her back to me here. If the pilots draw out Chase towards the Temple, the infiltrators will be able to slip into the village, then out with minimal fuss,”

“My lord, a question?”

The Jackal turned to raise a thing black brow, “What is your question,”

The feline kneeling before him shifted his gaze from his lord to the floor immediately. They wore dark purple tunics with the Jakuul family crest emblazoned on their chest. They were geared in duelist armor, with a rapier at their sides.

Kalm had given everyone who wore the tunic instruction on the use of the elegant weapon, and they all wore the swords with pride.

“Can we not draw her out with the Golems?” the Feline asked rather sheepishly, “They have beaten her befo-,”

Kalm smacked the Feline with the back of his hand, visibly enraged.

“-And they nearly killed her!” Kalm shouted down the Feline.

The Jackal calmed himself, sucking in a few gulps of air before leaning down and forcing the Feline back to his previous position with the same hand Kalm had smacked them with.

“They are not the enemy, no blood has been spilled in our private little struggle since then,” Kalm explained, “We do not seek to harm them, we have raided, taken a few of them, prisoner, they took a few of us, but this must end, we must force her to see reason.”

The Feline simply glanced off the floor up to the Lord, then back down again, a hand on their cheek. “Forgive me, my lord, I did not mean to stir your wrath.”

“I will ask forgiveness,” Kalm replied softly, “You asked a simple question and I acted wrongly, I just-”

The Jackal sighed, rubbing his chin again as he interrupted own excuse, “-Just see to the task, I would like my child behind the protection of stone walls and a strong army than a wooden hovel.

The Feline bowed, stood, back stepped and turned on their heel, heading out the door still rubbing their offended cheek. Kalm watched them and shook his head, unsure where that spark of rage had come from.

It occurred to him, as he returned to peer across the horizon once more, his thoughts drifting out to Chase, sleeping in her own bed in the village.

Kalm still loved her, deeply.

It would have been easy to miss the string of code that crawled over his screen. Little more than an algorithm of ones and zeros so tightly compact that in the real world it would have taken a microscope to spot it.

But for someone who could reach such a basic, binary language as easily as a Mobian could read words from a beginner’s learning book, it was not hard at all.

What intrigued him, however, was not the fact that the communications were aimed at a particular person within the confines of this valley. Nor was the actual contents that told him that there was yet another faction sliding itself into the family feud.

It was the code itself.

The outgoing transmissions were easiest to understand. Simple combinations digitally scattered and recombined the instant someone knew what the look for.

It was the incoming he paid special interest in because it was not done by a Mobian. In fact, it was not done by any living being on the surface of this world. It was sent and received by a machine.

Was it NICOLE? The AI Protector of New Mobotropalis? No. The code had some lingering fingerprints of NICOLE, but they were marred. Wrong.

He had gotten a fragment of her code for himself during the constant struggles between the Legion and the Freedom Fighters. It shriveled and died like a piece of hair would, but he could remember accurately sequences that comprised her being clearly.

Copying it was behind his capabilities, and he strove daily to do just that.

However, here, it was as if someone were to copy a living, breathing string of NICOLE’s code, her very DNA and pasted on a template.

Did someone actually steal a copy of the AI and re-purposed it for their own use? NICOLE’s artificial intelligence was the most advanced of its kind, surpassing everything predating its mysterious arrival. Doubtful anyone had gotten anything without it making some sort of momentous news across the very small community who traded secrets and information through a fledgling, World Wide Network.

Curiosity, however, had gotten hold of him. Inquisitively, he sent out a feeler to see how far he could go before someone burned him The Digital trial led to New Mobotropalis, but it jaunted sharply away towards space. It soon disappeared behind an influx of coding and signals made to mask whoever was behind the veil of firewalls and virtual shields. If it came back down again he did not have the capability to track it.

A Copy? Perhaps. But the original NICOLE would have shut down all inquiries with such force that it could blow processors and hard drives to bits. This was not the AI of New Mobotropalis. This was something simpler and less sophisticated.

Yet it was still beyond him.

He would have turned to converse with his newfound companion. They were also comprised of a digital code that was nowhere near as advanced as NICOLE. They were allowing him to study their root systems so he could continue his own work. However, despite his already lack of enthusiasm of having to socialize with Jakuul, he did not like his new ‘friend’ any better.

The aforementioned friend was experimenting with their own work, somewhere in the other reaches of their lab. Sensing they focused on their task, he soon dismissed the notion of pointing out this new string of code and returned to his own studies.

It was, after all, none of his business.

The woodland trail was not walked too often, but Jerry had no problems navigating it either.

He carried the pack with two of the four detection devices Control had given him, as well as that cane he had picked up from MARS Medical, and his Father sword. Just so he did not seem too dangerous to anyone, he wore a simple blue hoodie, his favorite color. Jerry figured wearing full combat gear on a recovery slash intelligence mission would give way to many clues that he was here for more than just recuperating.

He did not think he needed either, the sword or the cane his legs did not feel like lead weights anymore, though they still felt odd at times. The sword he carried on a just encase notion since he still had no idea what he was dealing with up here other than his sister.

The trees were a mix of breeds with their branches so thick there had been very little sky. Despite this, there were almost no shadows, and the simple dirt path was lined with lush vegetation. There were no prickly thorns or sinister-looking plants. Everything here was inviting as if wanting him to go and get himself lost in the green.

It was peaceful. Tranquil.

Jerry felt completely out of place.

When Jerry felt he was midway to the Village, he veered sharply off the trail.

Shrugging the pack off his shoulders, he placed it on the ground, opened the flap and-

-he was being watched.

Jerry straightened, pulling his Saber free with one hand while presenting the cane like an additional blade. His gaze swept the underbrush, hunting for what had set his survival instincts off.

For a few moments more, the sensation remained before it slowly went away, but Jerry did not lay eyes on the source. Uneasy, he quickly removed the node from his pack and went on his way, looking over his shoulder from time to time for some sign of what had been watching him.

Jerry arrived at the outskirts of the village, still peering over his shoulder.

A bamboo spear thrust into his face by a fierce-looking mouse stopped him dead in his tracks.

They demanded something in a language he did not understand, and Jerry simply held up his semi-empty paws, still holding the cane. They were quickly joined by another spear wielder, a Canine Jerry could not distinguish the exact species, yet the Fox could tell by the way they were moving that Guests were not only unexpected but unwelcome.

They spoke to him again, Jerry shook his head, holding his hands up peacefully, but like them was becoming agitated at the lack of communication.

Finally, one of them said, “Sword, surrender your sword.”

Oh, Jerry understood that.

Jerry’s ears flatten, his eyes narrowed hotly on the speaker and he hissed a single word of “Never.”

The Mouse went for it, and Jerry branded them across the face with the cane as soon as their guard had been lowered. The second launched an attack with the butt end of their spear, clearly prepared for the sudden violence from the Fox.

Jerry, however, pivoted slightly, the weapon barely missing its mark. As the Canine fumbled, Jerry brought his cane back sharply to jab them between the eyes with the end, stumbling the assailant back. Neither attack Jerry landed would leave lasting damage, but it got the point across he was not going to be tousled.

Jerry made no other hostile move, nor did he move from his spot, his hands returning to the surrender position he was originally in.

“I am here as a guest of my sister, Chase Voxholm,” Jerry spoke calmly, “Though if you want to claim this blade, you will bleed for it.”

The two of them backed away from the Fox, clearly taken by surprise with both the display of skill and his declaration when it was explained from one to the other.

“I apologize, we were expecting a Fox of different fur color,”

“Not a problem,” Jerry stated, jutting his arms down to put both hands on the end of the cane so he could lean against it. Apparently, Chase had forgotten to inform these people that he was not orange anymore when she came back last night. The reminder he did not look like the way his Sister remembered him put a bitter taste in his mouth.

“Just go fetch her will you, it was a long walk, and I’d like some water please,”

When Chase arrived, she smiled at Jerry and waved him through, speaking fluently in the native language to the canine.

The Canine and Mouse parted, and Chase turned her attention to her brother.

“They weren’t too much trouble, were they?” Chase asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Real terrors,” Jerry responded with a grunt, self-consciously limping inward. Now that he did not have a spear in his face, the Fox glanced about the village. The houses were a mix between a few designs that sparked the memory of past glory of Mobotropolis, stone houses with thatched roofs. The others were native Dragon Land homes he gathered, never having seen such buildings before.

They looked to be made of stark white walls, with sliding walls and curved wooden door frames, windows and roofs.

Jerry paused, pointing his cane towards the house to his right, it was a Dragon Land home, that he was for certain, just as he was certain as he announced, “That one’s yours,”

“Oh?” Chase asked, stifling a laugh, “How can you tell?”

“It’s the only one with a pink door and yellow flowers” Jerry noted with confidence. "The same as that dress you wore."

Chase laughing softly confirmed his suspicions. Jerry took a few steps towards it before she quickly guided him away.

“No no, time for that later, you interrupted me during the middle of a class,” Chase explained, pointing towards a group of Mobians wearing white training clothes, some with bottoms, some with tops, others with just gloves.

Jerry huffed some as she guided him towards them, wanting to see where his Sister had claimed as Home.

“This is the Village Elder,” Chase introduced him to a raccoon with slanted eyes, graying fur and bleached white chin hair that was looped into their belt. They wore a simple white robe and walked with a crooked cane of his own, though for obviously different reasons.

“Greetings Son of Nae,” the Raccoon addressed softly, bowing towards Jerry as he drew closer “It is an honor to finally meet the Sibling of our Treasured Guardian,”

Jerry awkwardly returned the bow, before sweeping his eyes towards the group in the yard. Most of them were children, others were elderly, the majority of them were female. Where were the males? There cannot be that few. Jerry looked back to the Elder, his expression thoughtful.

“I’m honored to be here in a Village my Mother Treasured,” Jerry returned the greeting, trying to think of something formal and not use every swear word in his vast vocabulary on the subject. “I am visiting from afar.”

“As we have been told,” the Elder smiled knowingly, “We have heard that you were schooled by one of my best pupils, as our Guardian here has, is it true?”

The Fox tried not to gawk at the old Mobian, looking him over before looked to Chase. “He’s older than he looks,”

Jerry blinked before looking back to the Raccoon standing before him. “Yes, though my Sister here was the better of us in her studies.”

“Perhaps, but I see you bear many scars on you from your life.” the Elder spoke, and Jerry grew considerably uncomfortable, “The years of turmoil may have sharpened your skills considerably.”

The Fox shifted on his feet, remaining silent on that. “You’re Master Wune aren’t you?”

“Perceptive of you.”

“My Mother spoke of you,” Jerry explained his guess. Master Wune could read others through their body language, the way they spoke, and the way presented themselves.

“Your mind works then,” Wune nodded, “I have heard of you as well, from Chase here, and Kalm.”

The Fox’s ears flattened at the name, his expression becoming grim. “I’m not the same pup I was in the Academy.”

“I know,” Wune observed with a reassuring smile, “You were described as arrogant, spiteful, and flaunted your superiority whenever you had gotten a chance,”

The Raccoon summed up Jerry’s youth more accurately then Jerry believed he could.

“Those traits have long since parted, leaving their mark.” Wune’s deep green eyes went to Jerry’s sword.

“But I see hate.” Wune frowned sadly. “Hate and Bloodshed.”

Wune had hinted on something Jerry would have been very proud to acknowledge, right then and there. Instead, Jerry noted the choice of weaponry, on how they reacted to his arrival.

Swords were unwelcome here, not guests.

The Fox unbuckled his sword belt and tossed the weapon to his Sister, who nearly dropped the unexpected item.

“Better.” Wune smiled once more, shifted aside, then said something sharply to the group. They immediately snapped into a routine they had been performing before they were interrupted.

The younger ones were performing a basic combination of punches and kicks, while the elders were practicing with bamboo staffs. Jerry fell in step with Master Wune, Chase flanking behind them both like an omnipresent bodyguard.

“To be honest, I half expected to explain myself as I did to your Father,” Wune admitted, glancing to Jerry, “He started carrying his sword in a bag over his shoulder in order to appease our sensibilities, but he never surrendered it,”

“I don’t need a sword,” the Fox replied curtly, “If you would have asked if you had stated your case plainly, I wouldn’t have to act the way I acted.”

Wune raised his brows to Jerry, “Really?”

“Fuck yeah.”

Wune’s brows raised higher, and Chase gasped lightly. The Old Master chuckled, which was not the reaction Chase had been expecting.

“Such language, I have not heard that since I’ve come home from the sea many years ago,” the Raccoon brought them to the front of the crowd. “Welcome to the Village of the Lost, Tiberius Voxholm, son of Nae, many here have come from afar to hide beneath the leaves of our forests, some to train, some to simply live their lives in peace, others against their will.”

As Wune noted against their will, Jerry knew they meant Chase.

“But I am thankful they have stayed, I am getting old, too old to do the same duties as I have performed before.”

Jerry looked to his Sister, frowning in thought. Was this the responsibilities she had indicated? Jerry looked over the villagers gathered, then around the village once more, quickly counting the visible buildings, tiny shops and even a smithy that had been long cold. There was less than half of the village present.

“Everyone else in the Forest?” Jerry asked rather boldly as he gestured towards the crowd before him.

Wune and Chase exchanged looks, the Vixen folding her ears against her skull.

“I see you haven’t been informed of our own little problems here, but-” Wune made a dismissive gesture with his own cane, “-That is none of your concern, Tiberius, it’s a local matter and it will be dealt with shortly,”

Jerry grunted, shrugging his shoulders.

“Whatever you say.”

The Fox let the subject drop as his gaze went back to the training and simply watched. “And call me Jerry.”

“Hiding still are we?” Wune asked, and Jerry did not catch on. The Fox was still fixated on the Training Students.

“Tell me, would you like to test your skills against our students?” Wune inquired with raised brows, seeing how Jerry looked interested in the Martial arts then actually talking.

“I love to, but I’m here to recover from, an accident.” Jerry lied. He hated the taste of that lie. He would rather say nothing at all on the matter then to lie. Wune gave him a knowing smile and a shake of a finger, but Jerry continued regardless, “I’m not supposed to do anything too strenuous according to my boss.”

“A Voxholm backing from a fight?” came the challenge, this time from Chase. Jerry glanced back at her and she was grinning at the younger-looking male. “I’d never see the day.”

Jerry’s response was something she was expecting. He tossed the cane up to her, then looked down to Wune with his hands behind his back. The Fox’s tail swished, reflecting a mild annoyance that it was hinted he would turn away from a fight.

“Right,” Jerry said with a slight smile on his lips. “Who’s first?”

Yet Jerry was not sure how much punishment his body could take.

Beneath the blue hoodie he wore, most of his chest had been covered in gauze with padding on his left side and on his left shoulder. Those were the most serious wounds he had suffered in his last mission, short of having half of his fur smoldered off. In a month under the tender care of MARS’ resident healer, Jerry had recovered extremely well.

It was that light feeling in his legs that made Jerry wonder if this was a good idea or not.

Then again, it was a Fight.

Wune had called the crowd to form a half-circle, or that was the end result of them saying something in that funny Dragon Land tongue of theirs.

There was a brief introduction, bowing, which Jerry returned awkwardly, he did not like being the center of attention.

Wune pointed out another Raccoon in the group to step forward.

They wore a simple training vest and carried a bamboo staff. One was presented to the Fox, but Jerry inspected it, took it, then dropped in on the ground before him, showing his general interest in it.

Chase stepped between them, looking down at the staff before looking to the Raccoon. “Should I tell him to drop his?”

“Is he your best with a staff?” Jerry asked, tossing her his pack of smokes in an afterthought.

Chase caught it and chuckled. “No, Master Wune would like to see how good you are before he will put you in a spar with someone matching your skillset,” she added with a loud whisper, “And none of us can play the Violin, so staffs first.”

“Should have skipped straight to you then,” Jerry mumbled, and Chase laughed, waving the Raccoon onward.

“When I step back Jerry, that’s when you can start, don’t inflict anything lasting, and don’t embarrass them, or yourself, got it?” Chase instructed with a bemused grin.

Jerry simply nodded his compliance.

The Raccoon bowed, Jerry returned it. When his opponent assumed a fighting stance, Jerry simply stood there, a hand behind his back while his left simply hanging.

Again the Raccoon looked doubtful, unsure of what they were stepping into. Chase made a cutting motion and back stepped, apparently refereeing this bout.

Jerry’s Foe spun the staff around themselves in a display of their skill and control over their chosen weapon, giving a brief shout. But the Fox stood there, looking genuinely disinterested. Instead, Jerry tilted his head, arched his brows and said with as much sarcasm he could muster, “That’s cute, but can you fight?”

Either the Racoon did not understand, or that taunted prompted them, but they rushed at Jerry with another shout.

As soon as they took the first step, Jerry’s foot lashed out, kicking up the bamboo staff that had been offered to him. The weapon collided with the Raccoon’s stomach, halting their momentum more out of shock then damage. They let go of their own staff to catch the second, just as Jerry had intended.

The Fox followed the kicked staff to grasp the one discarded with one hand and using what was left of the momentum of the Raccoon’s faltered charge, timed a strike with his new weapon across his foe’s shoulders, driving them to the ground.

When they rolled over, Jerry planted a foot on their chest and the end of the staff he was wielding in their face like a spear. After a frozen moment, Jerry thrust the staff into the dirt, then helped the Raccoon up to their feet.

Jerry bowed to him, and the Raccoon bowed back, impressed by their own quick defeat.

“Well, that was short,” Chase huffed, a little disappointed.

“I don’t do long fights,” Jerry grunted, rotating his shoulder. That had irritated the claw wound, not painful, but the skin felt tight. “Was that good enough to get you in the ring?”

“Eager to lose as quickly as he, little Brother?” Chase teased him on his stature.

Jerry snorted, though he was enjoying this more than he wanted to admit.

“Fine, bring on the next,”

Wune chuckled lightly and pointed towards two different beings in the ring. Jerry glanced in either direction and made a ‘gah’ sound as he saw the similarities of the Lapines that approached.

They were Twin Sisters, one jet black, the other stark white, both with green hair. Jerry put his hand over his eyes with a sudden headache. The way they moved, they were both graceful and confident.

“Jen is my own student, the other, Jun, is master Wune’s successor,” Chase announced, “They are both our best,”

“I’m going to feel this in the morning,” Jerry muttered back and was rewarded with a soft chuckle from Chase. Jerry put his hand down and brought his other from behind his back.

Jerry looked between the two and frowned. The black, Jen, was obviously Chase’s student, they were slightly taller, their body more defined in muscle than their sister. The other, Jun, the white one, had more of a gait to their step and shorter by a solid two or so inches.

“I take it their best as a team,” Jerry observed, reaching out to both of them in a gentlemanly manner. Each one took a hand, and Jerry bowed to them both before stepping back. They giggled lightly, forcing a brief smile on the Fox’s face.

Oh yes, this was not going to end well for him at all.

“Can you understand me?”

“Yes we can,” they both spoke in unison.

“Good, hit me with everything,” Jerry said, making the hand motions for them to come at him.

“Oh, we will,” again, they spoke together as one.

Chase made a cutting motion, then backed away.

They came at him in a blur. Jerry ducked beneath a sweeping kick from Jen that would have sent him reeling, only to take a blow to the chest from Jun, which had him stumbling backward anyway. He winced, his chest suddenly sore, but Jerry had no time to dwell on it as the Black Lapine pressed the attack.

Jen unleashed a series of punches that Jerry weaved around, barely having time to simply keep his distance. Then the Black Rabbit suddenly backed off, throwing Jerry off balanced as he weaved right into a flying kick from their Sister, Jun, sending Jerry down on his back with a snarling grunt.

Jerry rolled backward, quickly on his hands and knees, glancing up at the two. They were circling, smiling at him. The Fox took a moment to stand.

At first, those legs of his did not want to support him, he stumbled to the side, then straightened, regaining his composure.

“Right,” Jerry growled haggardly, “Kid gloves right the fuck off.”

They danced forward, but this time Jerry met them halfway. Jen he had sent stumbling with his own kick to her stomach, leaving Jerry a few moments to fend off Jun.

When Jen recovered to join the fight, Jerry maneuvered her more agile Sister in their path, blocking their immediate team-up. When one backed off, Jerry immediately launched himself at the other, sending them both on the defensive.

Then, they changed their pattern. When Jun lashed out with her feet, trying to sweep Jerry off his own, Jerry instinctively dodged. The Fox did not catch on until he was in the air, half turning to bring his arms up to defend against Jen’s own sweeping foot.

The collision was extreme, knocking Jerry out of the air and careening across the dirt.

Managing to again roll back on his hands and knees, this time it was different.

This time, however, he was not getting up on his feet. He rose up to one knee, spittle dripping from his lips and his eyes burned with murderous focus. The Fox willed himself to stand right now. Willed it. Internally Screamed it.

He could not.

Chase stood between him and the Twins after Jerry failed to stand after several attempts.

“Enough,” Chase said quietly, moving over to her brother to help him. The Fox refused it, glaring up at her for a moment before folding his ears against his head and slowly stood on his own with great difficulty.

“I’m fine,”

“No, you’re not,” Chase observed. That first hit made you sluggish, I saw it, how bad were you hurt from that accident?” his Sister demanded, again offering her Brother assistance.

Again Jerry refused it. He staggered a few steps towards the Twins, reaching out for their hands in the same gentleman manner he did before.

“M’ladies,” he offered, “You both hit like a fucking sledge,”

Again, they giggled as he bowed to them with their hands clasped. Neither knew what a sledge was, or what that other naughty word had been, but they took it as a compliment regardless.

Chase was at his side, and this time he did not ignore her assistance.

“I think I’m ready to see that Healer now,” Jerry muttered at her, “Pass me my cigs will you?”

“After you’ve seen the Healer,” Chase instructed sternly, but she did give him back his cane.

Wune ordered the group back to their training, then followed along.

“Not at all disappointing my boy,” the Elder apologized. “Though I do apologize for the Girl’s rough play,”

“Don’t need to,” Jerry replied, “It was a fair fight,”

“Not really,” Wune chuckled, “You are still recovering from a previous Battle are you not?”

“I wrecked a Hover-Cycle,” Jerry returned sharply. Again, he did not like that taste of those words in his mouth.

“Come come, boy,” Wune observed, now leading them, Jerry had slowed to regard the Raccoon, “We are all warriors here, some old, some new, some fresh, some scarred,”

Wune turned sharply as they noted the ‘scarred’ to jab Jerry in his wounded side with their cane, nearly doubling the Fox over.

Jerry growled darkly, clutching protectively of it and once more fell to a knee.

Chase was somewhat surprised at Wune’s reaction.

“It’s not like I’m asking you what you had done in the War, now is it?”

Jerry’s expression grew cold. “What do you know?”

“Nothing,” Wune spoke cheerfully. “Nothing at all,”

Jerry’s eyes met Chase’s, who frowned disapprovingly at Jerry. He did not like that frown, it reminded him of his Mother too much.

Yet he did not care what they thought either. There were other reasons why he did not want to speak on it. Jerry returned to his feet, looking between the both of them with a deepening frown of his own. Then he proceeded towards the Healer’s hut once more.

“I was wounded on a mission for an organization that doesn’t exist,”

Chase slowly nodded, “I guessed as much, though I had assumed you had done so in the service of the King,”

“Which King? The Fool or Maximilian?” Jerry responded, and as he spoke, the words came out a tad harsher than he intended.

“The Kingdom betrayed the likes of me, I have washed my hands of them, the Traitor and Elias, I owe nothing to them,” Jerry wrung his hands at the door of the healer’s hut. The Fox stopped at the door frame, it was open, dark and foreboding. Jerry leaned against his cane far heavier than he had done before as he stared into the darkness.

He felt old. He felt worn and strung out. Was this what Lukus had felt? How did Horus feel now?

What about Dunlap Lapine? He was the only other survivor of their Scout Force. Did he feel like this too? All this constant fighting, the betrayals, the stains of dishonor on their souls weighing them down? What about Wade? Were they capable of feeling like this even now? Yes, even in those synthetic eyes of the Metal Duck, Jerry had seen it.

They were all old before their time. They were all exhausted from the constant strife for simple survival. Each wanted something more, to love, to be loved, to bring something into this world instead of taking things out of it.

The Fox did not feel that way. He felt the wear, the pull on his bones and frayed edges of his Soul.

But Jerry refused to run from the Fight. Duty and Hatred drove him. He was still needed, still wanted for his fighting prowess, even though they were not as sharp now as they had been nor was he as powerful as the Heroes that strode this World. He had nothing else to give but his skill and his blood. Nothing to protect but those who could not do it themselves.

And then there was the simple matter of the Fight itself. He loved it. He loved every second of it. Fighting had been all he had left to offer anyone, and here the MARS Program wanted him just because of it.

Jerry could not wait to get back into the Fight again.

“I am sworn to someone who knows what I am, what I can do, and has hints of what I have done for the Kingdom, and Mobius,” Jerry explained softly. “I am hers until I die, or she relieves me of my oath.”

Jerry turned partially to looked back to Chase “But I cannot talk about her or what I do, all that I ask you to do is to trust me as I trust her,”

Chase nodded, then a slow smile crept across her face.

“A Her huh?” his Sister teased, ushering him into the Healer’s hut.

“If it was only like that,” Jerry got the hint, giving a soft sigh. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he unconsciously reached for the sword that was not there. With ears flatten against his bandana swathed skull Jerry growled “Oh fuck no,”

The Platypus that looked at him expectantly had obviously implanted eyes and prosthetic hands that all bore the familiar markings of the Legion.

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